Television Tribune: Educational Television

BIg BangBy James

I am, first and foremost, a learner. While some people look to films and television for art and entertainment, I look to learn. Sometimes I learn about a plot or a character. Sometimes I take away a song, and very rarely, I take away a lesson. House of Cards managed to provide all three. House of Cards centers on South Carolina Congressman Frank Underwood, the majority whip in the House of Congress. For those of you who have no idea what any of that means, it’s okay, because the show explains it. The show is almost Shakespearean, from the asides the Congressman makes to the political intrigue and betrayal. The story pulls quotes from Oscar Wilde to add to the depth of the story, and uses a high level of symbolism to reinforce the idea that every political machination is all just part of a larger game. The idea that everything is a game is utterly pervasive throughout the show. Every step of Frank Underwood’s ascent is weighed, measured, and executed. The logic is very remarkably simple, as long as the fundamentals are remembered. Throughout the course of the political action, everything starts to make sense, and the viewer is put into the seat of power. The greed, betrayal, and complex set of alliances seems like a second nature that can be controlled and harnessed.  Everything becomes a simple piece of the puzzle.

Similarly, the BBC show Sherlock gives the viewer the sense of progressive understanding. At first, the workings of Sherlock’s brain seem mysterious. He has an almost inhuman ability to pick out the important facts, make a logical conclusion, and come up with an answer. The deductions he makes are simple, and require only certain information. The phone is scratched around the charging area, so the owner of the phone habitually is drunk when plugging the phone in to charge. In that way, Sherlock’s powers are almost magical. While they seem mystifying and arcane, in the end, the revelation of the truth feels almost disappointingly simple. However, just like a magician practicing his trade, what takes a few seconds to learn takes years to master. However, the viewer is given the tools required to think like Sherlock Holmes, if not the experience.  But given enough time, it is possible to master Holmes’s deductions.

Television shows have great potential to be informative. For years, Sesame Street has taught young viewers the basics of letters and numbers, while also preparing them for real life social situations. Television shows can enforce vital concepts while making the viewer interested in the material that they are learning.  For example, after the television show The Big Bang Theory gained a popular following, the number of physics majors sharply increased. A similar phenomenon appeared when the television show Scrubs aired, significantly increasing the number of students who applied to become medical students. The fact is that a popular show will at least divert attention onto the surroundings in the show. Be it a hospital, a physics lounge, or a bar, people notice the places where their characters work, drawing attention to different professions and different walks of life. Even without any educational content, by sheer dint of the fact that people become invested in their favorite characters, people become invested in professions. The implications of this are huge. Shows could showcase different walks of life that were previously unknown. It is relatively well known that William Shatner deliberately flubbed his lines in a take so that the show Star Trek would be forced to showcase the first interracial kiss on television. The use of a television show to forward a social viewpoint is certainly well established, and it would be a relatively easy step to transition to an educational viewpoint. This wouldn’t be so bold as to suggest that the shows would become overburdened with the educational emphasis, but even just the change in setting from a bar to a psychiatrist convention could be enough to give a proper foothold in the world that most people did not even realize. As long as the writing remains at the forefront of the show, a show that expands horizons could be just as brilliant as the show that stays at home, and what’s more, educational television will no longer be just for kids.


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